Thursday, November 26, 2015

In Thanks

I love Thanksgiving.  I didn't when I was younger.  I loved getting out of school and eating all the good food but other than that it seemed like kind of a letdown, particularly when compared to Christmas.  It was sort of Christmas's annoying step-sibling, too full of football (which I didn't care about) and too much waiting to suit me.

But now?  Now, it has become one of my favorite holidays.  It's still not quite up there with Christmas (the lights! the cookies! the music!--yes, I'm one of those sick people who loves Christmas music) but it's safe to say that Thanksgiving is my second favorite holiday.  Which is why I'm so disturbed that it gets shunted aside and ignored all the damn time.  War on Christmas, you say?  NO.  There's a war on freaking Thanksgiving, which has now become not a national day of thanks so much as a prelude to Black Friday.  That has become the true holiday for this weekend, and it's a shame.  One company has even started the hashtag "Thanksgetting".  BASTARDS.  Way to take a wonderful holiday and try to make it about the complete opposite thing.
Now, to be clear, I'm not necessarily opposed to Black Friday.  Fine, I understand they have great deals on stuff.  I don't participate myself, but I can see the appeal.  HOWEVER, when people are being trampled and even dying in search of deals, when Black Friday is encroaching on Thanksgiving so that many, many people who have to work those stores can't even enjoy the time with family, and when we forget the very meaning of the holiday we're celebrating because we're too busy scoping out "deals", that pisses me off.  Stop forgetting Thanksgiving!  Stop treating it as a day that means nothing but turkey!  It is a day to be thankful, and frankly I don't know a single person (including myself) who a) couldn't use a little more gratitude in their life and b) doesn't have a metric shitfuckton to be thankful for.
There are so many articles about how this country is turning into a bunch of narcissists, and research backs them up.  And yet, we ignore the one holiday which grounds us, which reminds us of all we have and all we should be thankful for.  It is the antidote to narcissism but it is constantly, conveniently, shunted aside.  Why should we be thankful when there's just one more thing to buy?  Then we'll be happy and give thanks, right?  After we splurge and treat ourselves.  Hmm, maybe after the post-splurge treat?  Because you'll need another treat after so bravely facing off against all those other shoppers and getting the best deals.  You've earned a reward!  Ugh, but we still can't be thankful because then you have to wrap all those gifts, and distribute them, and make cards and...when does it end, precisely?  And how is this adding any joy to the holidays?  Perhaps, and I might be crazy here, but just maybe some of the crazy amounts of stress most people say they feel around the holidays could be mitigated if they actually took a few moments to slow down and be thankful.
I do realize that for our economy to run, particularly in the way it's currently set up, people need to buy things and money needs to be spent.  However, can we please instill a little sanity back into this picture and concede that perhaps for one fucking day, our economy will be just fine if people take a moment to look around at what they already have and be happy about it?
There's been a lot for me to complain about lately.  I'm frustrated and, often, unhappy with where my life is right at this exact moment.  I want things too!  I want to travel, I want a home of my own, I want I want I want I want.  The litany of all the things I don't have goes through my head daily, like an annoyingly whiny younger sister who just won't shut up.  What has helped the most is simply to take a deep breath and remind myself of all that I have, which is more than most of the world can boast of.  Sure, there are frustrations to be dealt with, and realizing that others have it worse off is not meant to diminish my own hardships--just because others have it worse doesn't mean my stress and frustration aren't legitimate or worthy.  But it does add some perspective, so instead of grousing about what's wrong with my life, I find myself more thankful for what I do have instead.  And when I do that, it makes me happier overall.  I stop getting annoyed by the petty, small things because they just don't matter.

Today, I will be celebrating with some of the things I love the most: time with friends and family.  Good food and the preparation of it will, of course, be a big part of that.  I already took my daughter to the park, but we'll go outside to play again when she's up from her nap.  We'll listen to some music, watch some football (which I don't mind so much now), maybe play a game, and at the end of the night I'll go for a bike ride with family and friends. Sounds like a pretty perfect day, and not one second of it will be spent thinking about all the things I don't have.
I wish the same joy to you today, and all through the coming holiday season.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Two years ago today was absolutely not the best day of my life.  It was, frankly, one of the scariest days of my life, preceded by one of the most painful days I've ever experienced.  (24 hours of back labor is no picnic.)  My daughter's birth was not the exciting, beautiful experience I'd hoped for.  Being wheeled into emergency surgery, meeting HusbandX's eyes as he was stopped outside of the surgery room because there wasn't time for him to scrub down, and thinking, "Please, please don't let either of us die," as the anesthesia putting me to sleep washed through me, was an experience I could do without.  And I did come close to dying, scary close.
But two years ago today is also the day I became a mother.  Some might say that I became a mother earlier, when she was conceived, but it never felt like it to me.  Not until she was in my arms.  And despite how awful her birth was, when HusbandX handed her to me, that was definitely one of the best moments of my life.  A thick shock of dark hair, chubby cheeks, plump little pink lips, and stormy blue/gray eyes.  I didn't even bother to count her fingers and toes, I already knew that she was exactly what I'd been waiting for.  It's so amazing to hold a tiny, perfect little human and to realize that you made her.  All my hard work, everything I'd been through to bring her into the world, became worth it.
Two years later, she still is.  I don't say that lightly.  My girl is a challenge.  She's stubborn like her parents--nobody's pushover, and she never will be, thank goodness--and clever, which means she can get herself into trouble really well, and she has a penchant for it.  In fact, I often think that her biggest fault is that she uses her cleverness in devious, trouble-making ways most of the time.  It drives me crazy!  Could she, for once, be easy on her parents?  From what I've seen, no.  If we have one easy day with her, it's followed by a week or more of tear-your-hair-out stressful, want-to-leave-this-kid-at-the-fire-station days.  She has made me cry, and not with joy, more than I ever expected.  Most recently it was when we traveled together and I was actually crying and begging her to fall asleep at 11:00 at night.  She saw my tears and apparently decided that she'd given me enough of a mental breakdown for the day, because she finally stopped laughing at me and fell asleep for not nearly long enough.
She has earned the nickname Monster.
So, she's not easy.  But she is funny, and loving, and happy, and smart.  She loves giving hugs and kisses (and she's finally learned to purse her lips for kisses, rather than open her mouth like she's trying to swallow your face).  She has such a happy laugh, and she loves animals enough to wave at them.  Squirrels in the park, spiders, it doesn't matter.  She'll wave and say, "Hi!" to them.  She brings me books that she wants to read and snuggles into my lap to hear them.  She loves to roar and climb and jump.  She's healthy, and that is a blessing that many parents don't get.
And sometimes, she breaks the rules but it's more funny than irritating.  She can finally open the door to her room so one morning I woke up with her patting me and gently calling, "Mama!"  When I opened my eyes she cheerfully shoved a sugar-encrusted pacifier in my face and declared "Tookie!"  ["Cookie"]  It turns out that she'd woken up before anyone else and, instead of waking us, went downstairs and discovered the sugar bowl on the counter.
She's ahead of the curve and has been throwing epic toddler tantrums for months.  Some of them are annoying, but quite a few have been hilarious to watch.  (Mostly it depends on how much sleep I've gotten.)
She's started picking her own outfits.
And she loves wearing my shoes.

Despite the many, many things she does that aggravate me, she's an easy kid to love.  I am constantly amazed at how fierce she is, in the best way, when she's going after a goal.  If she falls, she gets right back up again.  I'd like to think that HusbandX and I fostered that in her, and maybe we did our part, but much of it is inborn determination.  So on days when she's being difficult, I can remind myself that, no matter how trying she is right now as a toddler (and was as a baby), she will be an amazing adult.  She will be the kind of adult who Gets Shit Done, no matter what.  (I just hope that we can direct her more toward Nobel Peace Prize or Climbing Mount Everest, rather than Ultimate Mob Boss or Dangerous Hacker, in her life's ambitions.)
Two years, though.  Two.  All at once it feels like forever and a very, very short amount of time.  I marvel at how quickly she changes, and how rapidly time has progressed, even though at times it's felt like I've been a parent for so much longer than two years.  But she's still changing month to month, and that is one of my favorite parts of being a mom.  Every month she becomes a little more capable, a little stronger and faster and more independent.  It is awesome, in the dictionary sense of the word, to watch that progression.
I am very far from a perfect parent.  I know I yell at her too much, and lose my temper when she's doing the thing I just put her in time-out for doing.  Twice.  Gah!  In addition, I'm around this all. day.  Every day.  Of course it's going to wear on my temper.  But that's no excuse.  I need to cultivate more patience, particularly now.  Things are so up in the air and her life has changed so drastically in the last six months.  It's tough for the adults here, how much harder is it for a child who doesn't understand all of the changes and the new challenges being asked of her?  She needs to listen better, but I need to use a nicer tone of voice so that she wants to listen.  This is something we'll need to work on together.
There are times when I look at her and it just washes over me, the realization that she's really my kid.  I am that lucky.  I tell her nearly every day, and particularly on our bad days, that she is my favorite baby.  Of all the little kids in the world, I'm glad she's mine.  Even when she's being a tiny tyrant.
Manhattan Beach.  I had fun showing her
that the waves in the ocean come to us
if we're just a little patient.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Minimalist traveling with a toddler

There aren't many things I go minimalist on.  I get too sucked into the "but I might need that!" mentality, or caught up by sentiment (though that is getting less the older I get).  However, I do hate to travel with more than I need.  In some cases, this has led me to travel with less than I need (don't ask what I packed for our honeymoon--I was thinking "autumn in Alaska" but we went to "end of summer in Italy" and roasted myself), which isn't ideal either.  But I'm getting better at knowing what I really need for myself, and what I don't.
However, adding a child into the mix makes it a whole new ball game.  The Munchkin and I are in Pasadena visiting my brother, his wife, and their sweet baby girl.  You'll notice, HusbandX is missing from this.  He's at home, still working on, well, getting work.  So I've traveled alone.  With a toddler.  Clearly, I have gone mad.  I wanted to do this now, though, both because I'm super excited about my niece (yay!), and because the Munchkin is still a free lap baby for another couple of weeks, until her second birthday.  A free traveler?  Yes please.  Combined with the insanely low airfares ($76 each way!) this was hard to pass up.
Lest you think that I've basically discovered free travel, the Munchkin and I are staying in a hotel, which is not cheap in this area.  Even after trying my BIL's girlfriends' super-secret discount passcode for hotels (she works at a hotel), it was still not as cheap as I'd hoped for.  On the other hand, we're only a few blocks away from my brother's place, so we can walk.  So we didn't need to rent a car.  Yay!
Then we got here and...crap, how am I going to get there without a car?  The plan was that my brother would pick us up from the airport.  That's a fairly normal plan, right?  Hardly seems worth coming up with a backup.
Until it becomes necessary by exploding tires and life and such.  I had to get myself and the Munchkin and all of our stuff (including the car seat--never forget the car seat) to Pasadena from LAX.  WITH NO BIKE AS A BACKUP!!!  Nightmare.  After talking it over with my brother, we took the lovely FlyAway shuttle bus ($8) to Union Station downtown.  Since there weren't two seats together in one row, my thoroughly travel-weary toddler had to sit on my lap AGAIN.  And protest by slumping into a puddle in the aisle while squealing at me.  Multiple times.
After we made it downtown, that's where I had to pay (with toddler trying to run amok), then grab our luggage and go through about 1/4 mile of underground (or more?) to get to another kiosk to pay for the metro train ($2.75), then back up one flight (we took the elevator) to the train station, where the toddler promptly tried to run over to the edge to see what this new place was all about, at which point I abandoned our stuff to the mercy of whatever thieves LA had on offer at that particular time, to grab my child away from eminent danger and explain to her that she'd scared me very much.  She ignored me in favor of waving hello to the pigeons.
All of this is really to say that I am so happy I've learned to travel lightly.  If I'd had a lot of stuff, this wouldn't have been possible.  I'd have had to take the more expensive shuttle, or break down and rent a car.  As it was, it was barely doable.  And I'm patting myself on the back for having the foresight to look up lightweight car seats when we were researching them (it's 11 lbs.) as well as compact ones (for our small car).  If it had been a bigger car seat, that would have been the tipping point, because even our small one was bulky, heavy, and generally a pain in the ass when being carted around manually rather than strapped into a vehicle.
 But other than the car seat?  Damn, I did a great job.  We're here for four days and the Munchkin is potty training so we have both diapers (for sleeping times) and underwear (ALL the underwear, in case of accidents) so there's more stuff than we will have when she's totally done potty training.  (Please, please let that be soon....)  And still, I managed to fit it all into one rolling carry-on, plus a laptop bag full of entertainment stuff (including, you guessed it, my laptop).  Other than that, I have one soft baby carrier (our Ergo), which doesn't really have storage but was probably the best thing I brought because she couldn't run away when she was strapped to my chest, and I didn't have to juggle her as well as luggage and a car seat in my hands.
How did I pack so light?  The first thing I did was figure out what I would need in terms of clothing.  If it had just been me, I could have packed for myself in the laptop bag.  Two outfits, enough clean underwear for each day, a small bag of toiletries, and my entertainment.  With a frequently sticky and messy toddler, I needed more though.  But how much more?  It turns out, not much.  I made sure my clothes go together and packed: one pair of capris (it's LA, after all), three shirts, and clean underwear.  I wore my skirt, a tank top, and a light sweater (just in case), and packed one extra pair of pants just in case.  (Mostly, just in case the toddler has a potty accident while on my lap.  She did that to HusbandX once, peeing herself so bad that she peed his pants as well.  And that was with a diaper on her.)  I also threw in some pajamas.
For the Munchkin, there were wet bags (for used diapers), cloth diapers, covers, and the inserts to make them extra absorbent overnight.  One comfort blankie, her Sleep Soldier, the ever-important Bunny, two pairs of jammies (in case of an awful nighttime potty accident), three shirts, two dresses, and one pair of leggings (which technically goes with the dresses, but could also match with any of the shirts).  Once again, extra clothes just in case.  But I really did come up with the very worst I could think of and decided that, really, we don't need a whole boatload of clothes just in case, and that I can always take stuff to a laundromat if needed.

Poor Bunny was stuffed into the Barf Bag by the Munchkin.

I went minimal with my own toiletries, so they fit into about a sandwich-baggie-sized bag I have, plus toothbrushes and hair brush.
All of this fit into one rolling suitcase with lots of room to spare.  I didn't even have to utilize the zipper expansion.  It helps that toddler clothes fold up so small, and that I have a small toddler.  (She's just growing into 2T clothes.)  But really, I know plenty of adults who can't make it away for a weekend with less than a full suitcase for themselves.  And this is me, planning with the Worst Case Scenario: Toddler Edition in mind.  I fully expect to go home and think to myself, "Well that was stupid to pack.  We never used it!"
A few books for her, two books for me, the laptop and cable, one reusable water bottle each, and we were all set.  (Plus wallet and phone and all of that, but lip balm doesn't exactly add tons to the weight and size of the bag I carried.)  Considering how today ended up, I am very thankful that I packed light, because now, despite the unexpected adventure, I feel like it was overall a pretty good day.  I won't lie and say this wasn't a hassle to deal with, but it could have been SO much worse.
We made it to Pasadena, where my brother picked us up (car all fixed) and had a lovely evening together filled with chili and UFOs.  Getting to see the Munchkin give her baby cousin a kiss made any and all efforts to get down here Totally Worth It.